Prof on Japan tsunami, nuclear disaster: Popular opinion shifting central government emphasis to local control

March 4, 2013  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Japan's history of a strong central government is evolving as the country continues to rebuild from the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown, says a Purdue University expert.

"Whether it is fiscal control, philanthropic investing or public health resources, the civic atmosphere in Japan continues to change as people rebuild," says Daniel P. Aldrich, associate professor of political science and author of "Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery." "This began immediately after the tragedy amid fears of radiation contamination. Communities became involved in citizen science as people monitored and reported radiation levels through social media because they were skeptical of government and corporate reports.

"Those feelings are still there. Communities are pushing for more fiscal autonomy, and even the power behind philanthropic investing is shifting from the national level to local projects. The local civic voice that was once quiet is now loud and influential."

This shift has occurred for three key reasons, says Aldrich, who has studied the role that the lack of local civic involvement played in the building of nuclear energy policy and power plants in Japan. He also is author of "Site Fights: Divisive Facilities and Civil Society in Japan and the West."

"First, the government has not been successful in alleviating fears or skepticism about communication and sharing of information during the tragedy or since then," he says. "Second, some populations are reacting to the bureaucratic barriers they've encountered at the local level. And, third, a new strength in local and community engagement often emerges during the rebuilding process."

Aldrich is in Japan on a yearlong Fulbright Fellowship to continue studying disaster recovery and changes in government and civic engagement since the 2011 event. He also has studied disaster recovery and community rebuilding following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Tamil Nadu, the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo and the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan.

Aldrich, who was a professor at Tulane University when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, credits a neighbor with encouraging his family to evacuate as the storm approached. He continues to work with colleagues at Louisiana State University to study disaster recovery after the hurricane, as well as after the April 2010 oil spill. Aldrich and his colleagues are observing high rates of depression, domestic violence and divorce as they interview area residents since the Gulf spill.

Writer: Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723,

Source: Daniel Aldrich is on fellowship in Tokyo and is available by email, phone and Skype. The best way to reach him is

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